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John Constantine: Hellblazer Is a Return to Form For DC's Occult Detective

Story by
Art by
Aaron Campbell
Colors by
Jordie Bellaire
Letters by
Aditya Bidikar
Cover by
Publisher
DC Comics

As one of the most enduring, fan-favorite characters published by DC on a variety of imprints, John Constantine was never going to stay away for long. And while there is a considerably more family-friendly incarnation -- if such a thing can exist for John -- active in the DC Universe alongside its colorful superheroes, the real appeal and truth of the character has always lined up with more mature sensibilities and subject matter. That stems from Constantine's celebrated, long-running Vertigo series that saw the occult detective explore the dark, uglier aspects of the supernatural.

That timeless, world-weary version of the character has been reintroduced through Neil Gaiman's recently launched imprint The Sandman Universe. This incarnation of Constantine reflects his classic sensibilities and sees the damaged occultist return, relatively unchanged, in a more grounded, gritty world full of the usual paranormal threats. After last month's special by Simon Spurrier and Marcio Takara placing the character in Gaiman's world, Spurrier has teamed with acclaimed artist Aaron Campbell for a new ongoing Hellblazer series as part of DC Black Label in an accessible return to form for John Constantine.

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This opening issue is completely new and reader-friendly; last month's special is not at all required to understand the character and story Spurrier and Campbell are telling. The issue places John back in his usual stomping ground of London. He's a man that's a bit out of time and out of step with the modern British capital, with his usual caustic wit and acerbic personality instantly getting him off to a characteristically rough start. Meanwhile an insidious, supernatural horror that's surely on a collision course with the Hellblazer cuts a bloody path in the shadows.

Spurrier's approach to John Constantine and the character's distinct voice is unapologetically, and quite appropriately, British. This extends to much of the issue's supporting cast, with Spurrier taking full advantage of juxtaposing Constantine against a modern vision of his hometown. About half of the issue has Constantine playing off various figures he meets across London to great effect before blending in the paranormal and getting John back to doing what he does best. Spurrier uses the greater creative freedom granted by DC Black Label to enhance and enrich the story, not lean into mature content for the sake of it.

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Bringing this all to visual life is Aaron Campbell, the artist and co-creator of the Image Comics horror miniseries Infidel. Campbell is perfectly suited to bring his signature style to the Black Label title. Here, Campbell not only has to capture the real-world grit and shadow of a London perpetually depicted at night but also the surreal, sinister psychedelics of the supernatural, flesh-hungry threat that festers over the course of the entire issue. That Campbell, along with colorist Jordie Bellaire, is able to do both gorgeously and seamlessly sets the timelessly classic mood of the issue while forging new ground.

Spurrier and Campbell's new Hellblazer ongoing series stands wholly on its own, separate from the characters in the DCU and even from the Sandman Universe special, as part of the Vertigo Comics title. Having said that, the new series is immediately familiar to longtime fans of the character while completely accessible to those not as well-versed in the misadventures of its eponymous magician. As rough around the edges as ever, John Constantine is back like no time has passed at all, ready to delve into the shadows at the expense of those around him because, like the resilience of the character's appeal to his fans, he just can't help himself. And, honestly, we wouldn't have him any other way.

John Constantine: Hellblazer #1 is on sale now.

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